Matt Cooke is often described as "the kind of player you hate, but you'd love to have on your team." Next season, Penguins fans could get reacquainted with hating Cooke if he suits up for another team.
Out of all of the potential free agent forwards on the Penguins roster, Cooke may be the most important. He may even be the most important potential free agent on the Pens, period. Cooke's play with Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy last season was one of the high spots of the year.
He tied a career high with 15 goals during the regular season and scored four times in the playoffs. He regularly provided the energy the team needed at key points in the game.
However, Cooke is not a member of "the core." In order to avoid getting into serious salary cap trouble, Ray Shero has usually avoided giving non-core players long-term contracts. Remember Jarkko Ruutu? When you add in the fact that Cooke turns 32 in September, a contract longer than two years may not make sense for Pittsburgh.
Cooke's age also means that this could be his last chance to "cash in" with a big contract. Coming off of a personally successful year, Cooke may lean toward a longer contract or look for more money elsewhere. He plays a physical style and might want the additional security for himself and his family while he still has the chance to get it.
If that is what Cooke is looking for, he will likely find it somewhere. The Hockey News put him on their cover last month and there will be definitely be a strong market should he make it to July 1st without a contract. But probably not from Boston.
Ray Shero has stated that re-signing Cooke is one of his priorities this summer.